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Wales Online has picked up on comments by David Frost calling for the Government to resume overall control of the UK’s response to crises such as the pandemic.

In a column for the Daily Telegraph, he says the Government must “rebuild the UK nation state as a collective endeavour for everyone within it”. He goes on:

“We should put an end to “devolve and forget” in Scotland and Wales. Local decision-making is fine, but it should come within a sensible national framework. The pandemic made clear the nonsense of having four different travel and public health policies.”

Naturally, being Wales Online, the paper follows up Frost’s comments with a strong shot of devocrat orthodoxy:

“In 1999 the people of Wales voted narrowly in a referendum to start directly managing many of their own affairs. In 2011, a far larger percentage of Wales voted to extend these powers to the Welsh Parliament (then called the Assembly). In last year’s Welsh Parliamentary elections anti devolution parties were wiped out and Labour won a working majority on a massively pro devolution agenda.”

So let’s provide a bit of context: in 1997 (yes, they got the year wrong), the people of Wales voted for devolution by the narrowest of margins, after New Labour deliberately held the vote a week after the Scottish one and a campaign which was later strongly criticised by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which said:

“We were disturbed, in particular, by the evidence we heard in Cardiff to the effect that the referendum campaign in Wales in 1997 was very one-sided, with the last-minute No organisation seriously under-funded and having to rely for financial support essentially on a single wealthy donor. The outcome of the Welsh referendum was extremely close, and a fairer campaign might well have resulted in a different outcome.”

After that, just 35 per cent of voters turned out in the referendum on further powers in 2011, and then the devocrats demanded tax powers (which weren’t covered by the 2011 proposals) without a further referendum, because they didn’t think Welsh people would vote for them. Turnout for devolved elections has yet to top 50 per cent (and devosceptic voters don’t vote), and abolition continues to outpoll independence (not that you’d know from the media coverage).

It’s always important to remember that even in Scotland, more voters turn out for Westminster than devolved elections, and there was no public backlash when the Government passed the UK Internal Market Act. Voters are not nearly as invested in the prerogatives of the devocrat class as that class would like people to believe.

This means there is a lot of scope for the Government to pick and win lots of important battles on constitutional detail, such as control of the census, without the public perceiving the sort of head-on ‘assault on devolution’ that might actually spur a wave of sympathy for the administrations in Holyrood and Cardiff Bay.

Unfortunately, according to Whitehall sources senior people setting the Government’s pro-Union strategy are transfixed by polling which shows voters prefer, in the abstract, cooperation between Westminster and the devolved administrations rather than confrontation. Hence the clashes over things such as legislative consent motions which I reported last month.

Ministers need to be smarter than that. Headline “people prefer nice things to nasty things” polling must always be weighed against how likely voters are to care about, or even notice, a particular detailed issue. The alternative is letting the devocrats, always ready to be outraged, lead the constitution by the nose.